Pat Conroy to be celebrated at public memorial event

From The Beaufort Gazette

Article by Stephen Fastenau; photo by Todd Bennett – KRT

Pat Conroy and Cassandra King

The late Pat Conroy is shown with his wife Cassandra King

Fans and friends of late Beaufort author Pat Conroy will have another chance to say goodbye next month.

Conroy will be celebrated with a public memorial at 5 p.m. May 14 in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Conroy’s wife, Cassandra King, as well as friends and fellow writers Bernie Schein, Ellen Malphrus, Patti Callahan Henry, John Warley and historian Walter Edgar are expected to attend and participate. Singer Marlena Smalls will perform some of Conroy’s favorite songs.

Conroy died March 4 at age 70 following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Planning for the public memorial began about the time of his funeral.

People who weren’t able to make the funeral or stayed away fearing the large crowd will now have another setting to remember Conroy, said University of South Carolina Press director Jonathan Haupt, who worked closely with Conroy through his Story River Books imprint and helped organize the memorial.

“Certainly the need has not gone away,” Haupt said. “The loss still seems raw and new for a lot of people.”

The best-selling novelist will also be recognized with the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, held Oct. 20-23 this year in Beaufort.

The schedule for the festival should be complete in the next few days, Haupt said. After a successful days-long celebration for Conroy’s 70th birthday this past fall, organizers decided to continue the event.

The lineup looks to be as much a celebration of Conroy as it is a nod to the Southern writing and novelists he worked to foster.

“He was a very generous person,” USC Beaufort Center for the Arts director Bonnie Hargrove said.

As opposed to the weekend-long celebration in the fall that will feature a full slate of fellow writers and family members, the list of presenters for the May memorial needed to be short.

Haupt wanted people who could speak directly of what Conroy meant to his friends and fans and keep the program within about an hour. All the participants were willing, he said.

Warley is Conroy’s friend, author and former classmate at The Citadel. Conroy met Malphrus during a trip to Maine, pushed her to finish her book “Untying the Moon” and was there as Malphrus co-chaired his birthday festival last year.

Callahan Henry was also a participant in the birthday festival and is a fellow best-selling author.

“He crossed that wide river and with him he took so much light, so much brightness, a brokenness that he turned to beauty,” she wrote on her Facebook page after Conroy’s death. “The world is better for having him and dimmer without him.”

Any fear of the outdoor memorial becoming too somber should be erased when Conroy’s longtime friend and noted jokester Schein begins to speak.

Schein was fond of telling people he actually wrote Conroy’s books, once told Conroy the president wanted the author to visit the White House and caused Conroy to dodge calls from Barbara Streisand — fearing a Schein prank — when she wanted to turn his “Prince of Tides” into a movie.

“I think we’re all still mourning in our own way, but there is a need to laugh and celebrate and remember,” Haupt said.